Practical strategies for success
Submitted by Taylor Wilson Thompson Family Foundation
Research tells us that early language development is critical for young children’s social, behavioral and reading development. Also, related literature supports the notion that early mastery of language is the key to mastering the encoding and decoding skills necessary to begin reading. The earlier a child learns to reproduce sounds, words, language structure, and other soft communication skills, the easier it is for them to develop other learning concepts that will help them in school. More importantly, as they learn these skills, they become empowered and inspired to continue learning on their own. (Wolf, 2008)
Children begin learning language while in the womb by listening to the sound of their mother’s voice and others communicating around them. (By thirty weeks of gestational age, children’s sensory mechanisms are developed). While in the womb, they develop the ability to discriminate sounds and inflections. This in-utero learning preconditions children to learn the language spoke around them. In multi-lingual homes, children hear variances in linguistic patterns that assist them as they begin to navigate a bilingual household. (Fabrizi, Slater Worley, et.al. 2018)
When children are born, they are thrust into a world of sound and activity. In utero, they developed the ability to recognize their mother’s voice and the daily sounds of their home. Babies prefer their mother’s voices to other females and they prefer their natural language over other languages (O’Grady, 2005). Soon after, through visualization and mimic, they develop the soft haptic skills including touch, gestures, and other physical expressions that accompany spoken language. Within the first three months, they are absorbing, through their senses, the rudiments of language and communication.
The early months of child development are critical times for language development. During these first months, children are listening and learning the sounds, how those sounds are put together by those around them, and attaching meaning to the sounds. They begin to recognize the sound and language patterns of those with whom they come in contact. This is a time when parents and the rest of the family can greatly enhance the child's language ability. The child’s mastering encoding and decoding skills, attaching sounds and phrases with meaning and development of language play, help to ensure increased language development at an early age. Here are ten steps new parents can take to help improve tether children’s language abilities:
1. Listen to them as they begin to play with language.
We love it when others are listening to us. So do babies. When others look at us, it shows they are interested in what we are saying, it encourages us and gives us the confidence to continue our behavior. Infants are the same. When they look into an adult’s eyes, they are aware they are the center of attention - and they like it. More importantly, they receive positive reinforcement of their behavior. In their minds, they think they are communicating just like you. We know they aren't, yet when you are listening to them with the full complement of smiles, grins, and laughter, they will listen to your responses and try even harder to master the sounds you make.
2. Talk to them in whole sentences about what you may be doing inside or outside the home.
Often we are tempted to use monosyllabic or nonsensical language in playing with our infants. We do this because we mistakenly think this will help them understand us or help learn simple language. They beneï¬t from hearing both simple and complex words that we utilize every day. By using everyday sentences, this helps toddlers and young children to recognize sound patterns and hear the linguistic dexterity needed to form language.
3. Teach them the alphabet and begin to translate sounds into symbols.
Reading is about decoding and encoding sounds and symbols. These are building blocks of speaking, reading and writing. The more infants see symbols and become familiar with the sounds they represent, the sooner they will discover how to break the code. Create a language rich environment for children. Use big bright letters and words to label items in the home. These signs will help children associate the things in the home with words. When you are out with your child, whether walking or driving, point out the same things that are labeled at home as you see them outside the home. Remember, toddlers especially are always listening and always absorbing information from you. Don't miss an opportunity to have word play with them. Word play helps to make learning fun and sets the tone for what learning is all about.
4. Include your child in adult conversations between you and other adults.
Infants are already immersed in your language. They hear you talk on the phone, speak with others who come to visit. Be aware that they are listening and make them a part of the conversations that take place around them. These are prime opportunities for them to hear language from others about a variety of topics. This diversity of topics helps them understand how language works for you and others.
5. Make sure your child has a library of books to read and let them see you reading.
In order to value reading, the infant and young child must see it as being something that you value. Read with them several times a day and share the joy of reading with them by reading, laughing and explaining what you’re reading to them. Let them see you reading your own literature when they are with you whether it be books, magazines or other forms of literature.
6. Read to them daily from a variety of sources
Reading takes place from various platforms. Make sure you introduce a variety of reading materials to your infant and toddler. Touching books, magazines, newspapers, ï¬‚yers, cereal boxes as well as computers and mobile devices helps them identify practical sources of reading materials.
7. Take them places where new words and new concepts will be introduced.
The more experiences a child has the more language they will be able to relate to those experiences. Take them everywhere. Allow them to see everything. Permit them to talk to others in order to practice their language skills while listening to and responding to the language of other regions and cultures. If your family is bilingual, introduce and celebrate the varying languages of each culture present within the extended family.
8. Use gestures, intonation and inflections in your speech.
Remember that communication is about more than just words. It allows people to express thoughts, ideas and emotions, and communicate with others.(Paparrela, 2011) The soft skills of communication are often just as important when communicating as words. People of varying ages, ethnicities, and genders have different ways of gesturing as they get points across to others. The more soft skills children learn the more enhanced their language will become. Their ability to understand the nuances of language will help them understand what others are saying even when they don't fully understand the words.
9. Remember you are the greatest teacher they will ever know. Take it seriously.
Most of what children learn in years one and two is learned from you. You are the basis for when, how, and what they learn. Plan each day as a learning experience in language development. Your can’t take a day off because they hear and repeat everything.
10. Sing. Tell stories and language play as often as you can. Rhythmic language development through songs, poetry and language games are fun and memorable activities for you and your child. Sing with your child and have others join in to add fun to the activity. Remember that learning language is often unexpected and dynamic, so create a learning community within the family and among friends that can assist you in developing early language skills for your child.
Fabrizi, A., Rebecca Slater, Worley, A., Meek, J.,Boyd, S., Olhede, S. and Fitzgerald, F. (2018) A Shift in Sensory Processing that Enables the Developing Human Brain to Discriminate Touch from Pain.U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes if Health
William O’Grady, (2005). How Children Learn Language. Cambridge Approach to LinguisticsCambridge University Press 2005.
Papparel a, T., Stickles Goods, K., Freeman, S., Kamari, C., (2011)The emergence of nonverbal hint attention and requesting skills in young children with autism, Journal of Communication Disorders, 44,569-583
William Wolf (2008) Proust and the Squid: The story and science of the reading brain. Cambridge:Icon Books.
Taylor Thompson is author of Leadership: It’s Child’s Play. Ten Steps to Children’s Leadership Development. She is also, founder of the Taylor Wilson Thompson Family Foundation. Taylor is a second year student attending Barnard College at Columbia University, New York, N.Y.
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